What lies ahead for the fresh produce sector?

Talking to market agents these days can be quite depressing. In the past, there were always people you could rely on to give you a more positive view of current issues on the markets or in the sector in general.

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These days, the positives are hard to find – but they are there. The drought is taking its toll and crops in some areas are virtually non-existent. On the flip side, in the deciduous fruit production areas, they are talking of excellent crops. The hot, dry weather is ideal for fruit development.

Prices on the markets have reached previously unknown heights in some cases and the pundits tell me we can expect prices to rise further as the long-term effects of the drought take hold. One salesperson I spoke to predicted R100/ pocket for potatoes early next year.

On the other hand, at R10/kg that’s still the best value for money you’ll find.

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A fruit salesperson told me that some early-season fruit is not holding its shelf life because of unseasonal rains in some areas.

You just can’t win!
At Bloemfontein’s Mangaung Market, I was shown photographs of hail-damaged mangoes in the Hoedspruit area. The damage was shocking and my heart went out to that farmer. As if the crazy weather isn’t doing enough damage, we have an economy that’s bumbling along and not making the grade, according to most analysts.

The markets are feeling the pinch as buyers buy less and turnovers slump.

For a commission agent, that means lower income. There is some compensation in higher prices, but it doesn’t go all the way to offset lower volumes caused by the vagaries of the weather.

Caught between the optimists and pessimists
Previously, I wrote about the strikes in the fruit sector. Since then, I have heard of threats to damage or burn one of our major markets. If these threats are more than rumours, we have reason to be very concerned. About the only positive comment I could find recently was a tweet from ZZ2 CEO, Tommie van Zyl.

It gave me heart. His message: there is still hope and our country is not sinking as fast as some commentators would have us believe. Despite all the negatives, I’m still on the side of positive people like Tommie as we move into a new year.